Last Updated on April 15, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 543
Extended Character Analysis
Creon is the King of Thebes and a recurring character throughout the Oedipus Trilogy. He rose to power after the deaths of Eteocles and Polynices, who inherited the throne from their father, Oedipus. Creon is a practiced statesman who has assisted the rulers of Thebes for many years. At the start of Antigone, he is well respected for his rational, level-headed approach to leadership. However, his cold rationality fails to account for the familial bonds that lead Antigone to bury her brother. He also disregards the gods’ demands that the dead be treated with dignity.
Creon as Complicated Antagonist
Though Creon is the antagonist of Antigone, he is not necessarily a villain. His actions are not intentionally spiteful or evil. Instead, Creon is attempting to create stability and order in a country recently riven by civil war. The Theban people view Polynices as a traitor who led an army against his own country. Creon’s decree that Polynices shall not receive a proper burial stems from his belief that enemies of Thebes are not owed the same respect and dignity in death. Creon is less a heartless villain and more a Theban nationalist. For Creon, the safety and stability of Thebes is more important than sentimentality or religious observances.
Creon can also be interpreted as an oppressive authority figure. By this reading, Antigone is a hero who defies Creon in order to do what she believes is right. By contrast, Creon ignores the advice of Haemon, the chorus, and Teiresias and stubbornly asserts the superiority of his own narrow judgment. He insists that Antigone must be punished, or else he will be seen as a lesser man and leader. By this reading, Creon is chiefly concerned with maintaining his own dominance and reputation. The fate of Thebes is of secondary importance.
Creon as Tragic Hero
Creon can be read as the play’s tragic hero. Perhaps even more so than Antigone, Creon experiences the reversal of fortune that Aristotle identifies as essential to the formation of a tragic figure. He begins at a high point as the newly appointed King of Thebes. He has the respect of his people and his family. Creon’s hamartia, or tragic flaw, is hubris, which leads him to believe that the laws of the state are more important than the so called unwritten laws of the gods. Because of this stubborn belief in his own judgment, Creon loses his family and the respect of his people. At the end of the play, he recognizes his errors in judgment and laments the losses it has cost him.
There are many parallels between Creon in Antigone and Oedipus in Oedipus Rex that reinforce Creon’s status as a tragic hero. Both begin their respective trajectories as powerful and respected kings, and both are ultimately punished for defying the will of the gods. The people around both Creon and Oedipus attempt to warn them against their pursuits, but both men remain committed to their chosen paths until it is too late. Ultimately, both Creon and Oedipus learn that no mortal is superior to the will of the gods. Creon repeats these mistakes despite having witnessed Oedipus’s downfall, which speaks to the human tendency to exaggerate one’s own importance.